PILOT LITE: Powerless (2017 TV Series)

Posted: May 10, 2017 in Pilot Lite
Tags: , , ,

It seems like network television has a fair amount of difficulty adapting comic books to television at the moment. Sure, there are notable exceptions (Fox, somehow, has two bona fide hits with Gotham and Lucifer) but by and large, if you want a comic adapted successfully, you have to look to The CW. Just a few months ago, Black Lightning was moved to The CW before production even started! NBC already had one failed adaptation under its belt (pour one out for Constantine, mates) when it went to series with Powerless, a workplace comedy set in the DC Universe.

powerless

The premise has remained essentially unchanged from its early pitch: this was to be a street-level show that focused on the average people who populated a world filled with incredibly powerful heroes and villains. That said, it didn’t take long for everything besides the basic premise to be completely retooled by the studio. Initially, the story was to follow workers in an insurance company that deals with super-human related claims. Perhaps due to the healthy amount of criticism DC/Warner Bros. get for the insane collateral damage in their films, the setting was changed to the more proactive environment of an R&D department at Wayne Enterprises. Around the time of the mandated changes the show’s initial showrunner, Ben Queen, left the series. Never a good sign. Regardless of the cards being stacked against it since its inception, the show continued on and finally aired its pilot in February of 2017.

plsWhen it eventually premiered, the unanimous response was essentially a shrug. It didn’t get horrible reviews, but it certainly didn’t get much praise. And now, nine episodes into its first season, NBC as announced that it’s being pulled from their schedule with three episodes yet to air. Due to that, I’ll be quickly covering the whole season as-aired instead of just the first episode. Probably the biggest reason behind the series’ implosion and lack of popularity is a lack of a clear voice for the show and its characters. The lead role, Emily (played by Vanessa Hudgens), is introduced as a stock wide-eyed optimist who’s dropped into a cynical work environment. And, sadly, by episode 9 that’s where she’s still at. What little development we get from her on an episode to episode basis is essentially erased by the opening credits of the next one.

Speaking of opening credits: I’ve said many, many times before that one of the worst things you can do for a show or movie is to praise its credit sequence. It’s a way of saying that editing words together with a quick jingle is more entertaining than the story and characters that succeed it. Well, this show has an awesome credit sequence! Just take a look at it:

It’s a fun, nerdy, retro-cool opening that in no way matches the tone of the overall series. It also teases the huge and recognizable heroes and villains you’ll see on the series. Or realistically, the characters you’ll hear about every once in a while. Those you actually see are considerably less notable. In fact, there are really only a few DC heroes of note on the show (namely, Crimson Fox, Olympian, and Fire/Green Fury). Of the three, Fire is easily the one who is given the most to do and is turned into something resembling an actual character. She features prominently in two episodes and is played by a perfectly cast Natalie Morales. Sadly, by the time she’s introduced the show was already on the way out the door so we’ll never get to know if she was going to show up more prominently in season 2.

vwI haven’t said anything about the other cast members, because they really don’t matter. That is a terrible thing to say, but it’s true. Some truly amazing actors get totally wasted. Danny Pudi and Ron Funches, who are both brilliant comedic actors, are forced to play broad and completely boring caricatures of cynical office drones. Their crew is rounded out by Christina Kirk and Jennie Pierson who are forced to convey the same cynicism that the other officemates are also failing at. The last major cast member is Alan Tudyk as Bruce Wayne’s cousin Van (he’s actually from the comics, I swear…look it up). Tudyk’s a legend in the fanboy community and rightfully so. He’s great at communicating humor and warmth in most of the characters he’s played in his career. However, as the overgrown child Van, he’s playing a single joke over and over in the broadest way possible. It’s absolutely not his fault as there’s only so much control an actor has over this, but man, this role doesn’t look good on him.

So, here we are: nine episodes into a show of middling quality that probably shouldn’t even exist. And yet, later in the series, the showrunner seemed to embrace the larger DC comics universe (outside of namedrops) a little more. It’s really a shame that it was so thoroughly mishandled in the beginning. Nothing the show did was completely irredeemable. With some retooling, a tighter focus on characterization for the cast, and a stable of reoccurring DC heroes and villains (at least one every episode or two) the show could be turned into a special little gem that celebrated the everyman of comic book universes. As it stands, it seems the show was mismanaged from the get-go and the studio is looking to cut its losses by cancelling it. While their decision makes sense given the reception and overall quality, it’s still too bad to see a show go down in flames.

green-fury

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